When one person walks always from another, it is almost always assumed that it’s easier for the person walking away. While I’m sure that is the case for some people, I can assure you that it’s not for me.
Before moving to Spain, I had already moved alone once so I thought, “This can’t be that much harder.” I’ve found housing on my own once, I’ve paid my own bills, shopped for my own groceries, and I’m a pretty good cook. I’ll survive.
But as it turned out, living alone in a foreign country is several degrees harder. Why?
Yup, no surprise there. One of the hardest parts about living alone abroad to me is the language barrier.
Before arriving to Spain, I knew some rudimentary Spanish thanks to my middle school and high school Spanish classes. However, I’ve never actually had to use it much in real life, aside from trying to decipher all the Spanish ads on the New York City subways or catching snippets of people’s Spanish conversations.
And if you’ve never tried to use a language that you’ve only studied in textbooks, I’ll tell you right now that learning a language and using it are two very different things.
You might’ve scored 100 on your Spanish exam and think you have all the grammar rules in place but when a native speaker comes up to you and speaks 70mphs with slang words thrown here and there, all you can say is “Como…?”
The next difficult thing about living abroad is the different ideas about what’s standard.
For instance, in the U.S, when you have to get an I.D (identification card) you have to go to a specific I.D office. Here in Spain (or at least in Bilbao) you have to go to the police station.
Or when I really wanted to buy a tea-kettle, which is a pretty standard American thing to have, I couldn’t find one anywhere. Eventually, I did find one in a store buried underneath heaps of stuff. And when a colleague asked me why I needed one at all, I responded, “Because it whistles so you know when tea is done,” she was amused but unconvinced.
Or how about when you need something really specific like window sealants to prevent that cold draft from coming into your house or googly eyes to make sock puppets with your students, where do you go?Donde?
And that’s how I spent my first two months here in Spain. Looking for stuff.
A few weeks ago, I joined a meetup group because I wanted more information about their events. Turns out, I joined a group for Spanish speakers looking to improve their English and not the other way around. So, I left.
A few minutes later, I receive an angry text message from the creator of the group asking me why I left the chat group without saying bye. He said I was rude for not saying bye and asked, “Don’t people do that in America?” But mind you–I didn’t even know this guy’s name or any of the 40+ people in that chat group!
I didn’t think it was a big deal to leave a chat group that I didn’t want to be in anymore but he was very offended and all I could say was “Sorry but I don’t think this is for me.
Alone A Lot More Than I’d Like to Be
I’m an introvert and I like my space but even introverts have limits! When I first moved into my new apartment in Spain and realized I had no roommates for the first time in my life, I rejoiced.
I did all the things that I’ve always wanted to do like meditate, yoga, write, blast my favorite music, sing at the top of my lungs, or simply make a mess. (Unfortunately, you can’t dance around naked here in Northern Spain because it’s too cold).
But by my fourth month, I found myself craving company. I would sit at my kitchen counter and wish I had someone to talk to after work, someone to complain with, or someone to enjoy dinner with.
Why don’t you call your friends back home?
Well, I’ve tried but my cellphone service sucks and the calls drop constantly or my friends are either sleeping or working when I’m free.
But You Chose This
Yes, Yes, I know what you’re thinking, “Why are you complaining? This is the life that YOU chose, ” and you’re correct, I did! But I also don’t think people understand sometimes how hard it is exactly to walk away from comfort, familiarity, and stability.
It’s not easy to walk away from the people that you love, the home that you know like the back of your hands or simply, the sensation of knowing where you are going and what’s coming up next. It’s not easy to reenter and exit people’s lives and play catch up all the time. It’s not easy to let go of all the hugs and kisses.
But we’ll rarely tell you this because we don’t want you to worry about us or convince us to go home because at the end of the day, we know this is where we want to be. We know it’ll shape us into stronger people in the long run and we wish the same for you.
So if there is someone who walked out of your life to pursue their dreams and you’re hurting, please know that we do feel bad and think about you every day. And most of all, please know that we probably wouldn’t have done it unless we wanted it bad, so bad that we were willing to risk everything we had for a life of unknowns.
And with that said, I want to leave you with one of my favorite travel poems of all time:
The Men That Don’t Fit In
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don’t know how to rest.
They are strong and brave and true;
But they’re always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.
They say: “Could I find my proper groove,
What a deep mark I would make!”
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
Is only a fresh mistake.
With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It’s the steady, quiet, plodding ones
Who win in the lifelong race.
And each forgets that his youth has fled,
Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope that’s dead,
In the glare of the truth at last.
He has just done things by half.
Life’s been a jolly good joke on him,
And now is the time to laugh.
Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;
He was never meant to win;
He’s a rolling stone, and it’s bred in the bone;
He’s a man who won’t fit in.